Rep. Virginia Foxx: For-Profit Colleges Are More Effective

December 08, 2011 5:41 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Rep. Virginia Foxx

Earlier in the year, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, said that "wherever taxpayer dollars are being spent, there has to be accountability."

Foxx, a far-right lawmaker who was among the handful of Republicans to vote against a relief bill in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, has been steadfast in her opposition to what she considers government waste. So much so, in fact, that the conservative group Citizens Against Government Waste even named Foxx a "Taxpayer Hero," an honor that Foxx is happy to promote on her official House website.

But the sort of accountability Foxx champions, it seems, is less important when the private sector is involved. In particular, Foxx has been a strong voice in an industry-backed effort to stop the government from reining in one of the most ineffective and wasteful schemes that exist: for-profit higher education. According to Inside Higher Ed, Foxx recently told an audience at an event sponsored by an organization that accredits for-profit school that for-profit colleges are more effective than non-profit colleges and universities:

For-profit colleges have done a better job of being mindful about efficiency and effectiveness than their nonprofit peers, U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx, who heads the House subcommittee on higher education, said during a panel discussion on Monday. The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools hosted the event, which was on workforce training. Representative Foxx, a North Carolina Republican, also said the federal government has not scrutinized nonprofit colleges with the same vigor as for-profits, noting that "accountability hits the new kid on the block hardest."

Foxx is way off base. Since what motivates the for-profit sector is making money for its shareholders — who often include venture capital firms — and since government funding continues to pour into for-profit colleges' coffers with few questions asked, there is a strong incentive to enroll as many students as possible, but little incentive to provide quality preparation for a job. From The Week:

Schools have been accused of misleading applicants about loan costs, exaggerating potential post-graduation salaries, and targeting disabled veterans and homeless people to boost enrollment. Former students of for-profit colleges now account for about half of all student-loan defaults. "I don't think I learned anything at the Art Institute [of Philadelphia], other than how to get scammed by somebody," said Taryn Zychal, who accumulated $150,000 in loans, only to find that no other institution would recognize her academic credits. Legions of other students tell similar stories.

Aside from accusations that for-profit colleges don't follow through on their promises to students, the other big problem is the level of government waste that goes into the scheme. As the Economist put it, "Public subsidies may provide up to 90% of [for-profit colleges'] revenue; the government bears the risk of loan defaults." There's little risk to the corporations that run the colleges, while the government forks over billions of dollars of taxpayer funds to schools that do little or nothing to train their students. A congressional report on the sector noted that, under existing laws, "a for-profit school can be extremely profitable while failing a majority of its students." Despite this, Foxx and many other lawmakers (from both parties) fight against efforts for meaningful change.

The irony is that Foxx has said that she has "a philosophical belief that the federal government should basically not be involved in higher education." Speaking on the House floor last year, she said that "We should not be funding education." At least until that the Department of Education is dismantled, she is working, it seems, to ensure that the wasteful for-profit education sector that supports her campaign gets as much from the federal treasury as possible.

[h:t: Washington Monthly]